Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Protest

My horse is so predictable.  When we introduced the idea that leg = go forward, he threw a temper tantrum three rides in.  When we introduced the idea that blowing through my left rein was not an option, he threw a temper tantrum three rides in.  Monday was my third ride of our new 'make him crazy forward' homework.  Guess what happened?

It started out fine.  I dressed him in his western gear while I fiddled with his saddle to see if I can make it work for me, we warmed up, and then I put my leg on and said 'big trot'.  He humped his back at me and tried to haul the reins through my hands.  Uh, no, go forward.  Big trot.  He decided that he no longer had a big trot and started breaking to the canter.  I said fine, if you want to canter so bad, big canter.  The wheels came off.

All of a sudden the window at C was terrifying and he flew off of the wall in his patented spin/buck/bolt combo.  I had to stop the bolt for safety reasons but immediately applied spurs to ribs and sent him back into his big canter.  He dove down on the bit and started popping his butt.  Haul his head up, get way in the back seat, and continue to push.  No relief until he goes forward, no matter how much he threatens and twists and bucks.

It was not a fun twenty minutes.  He was flat out looking for a way out of this work and when in doubt, try scaring the rider.  Bucking and bolting is a great way to get someone to take their leg off.  I had to keep my leg on even with him bucking and diving sideways because I know I need to get through it or it will be worse next time.  I used some circles to keep the bolting at a reasonable level and micromanaged his left shoulder to keep the spin from happening on his strong side.  He'll spin right, but it's slow and not very committed.  If he spins left?  I'll be spitting out arena footing.

After twenty minutes of loud protest while I made him transition between big trot and big canter, he decided that he was tired and just wanted to stop.  We got one lap around the arena with a big, well behaved canter on a soft contact and called it a day.  He was blowing like a freight train and I was coming down from the adrenaline that comes with sitting on a barrel of TNT.  Nothing else was going to be accomplished after that, so we went for a walk in the snow.


By the time we'd moseyed around the property for half an hour, we'd made up and his ears had gone soft again.  No more spooking and spinning, even when we went for a walk down the road. 

Today he has the day off.  I knew this was going to happen so I planned out his rides accordingly.  He needs today off to mentally reset and rest what are probably some sore muscles after that nonsense.  Hopefully that was the wall and we're now through it.  Tomorrow Trainer A rides him and she'll happily kick him up as far in front of her leg as possible.  Thursday is his lesson with his other rider, so that will be a bit of a slack day for him.  I'll jump him on Friday to make sure all of the negativity has been shaken out while still getting him super forward.  Trainer Z is in the area on Sunday so we're going to have another session to check on our progress.  I'd like to have that lesson be something more productive than watching my horse throw a temper tantrum over these new rules.

I have my lumbar support pillow and a Salon Pas patch for my lower back.  I thought fifteen year olds didn't do this nonsense anymore.

Friday, February 15, 2019

No reason to stop

So I had my lesson with the Grand Prix student of Mary Howard today.  I won't lie, I was a nervous wreck.  I was so worried that I would be told 'nope, he isn't there' that I didn't each lunch.  I showed up at the barn early because I couldn't focus at work anyway.  I dressed him up with polos and braided his mane up and out of the way so his neck was actually visible.  Fortunately it was 40* out so he didn't want to double barrel me for taking off his blankets.

Trainer Z, as she is now officially dubbed, has been a working student of Mary's for nine years.  She owns a stallion that she brought up to Grand Prix.  Her stallion's barn name is Muffin.  I started laughing and she explained that he used to be quite scary and she needed the cutest name possible for him.  So he's Muffin.  She was a grade school teacher but this year, after the birth of her first kid, she's decided to go all in and be a full time trainer.  She's fixing up a barn on her property for her own horses and traveling around to teach and train horses for other people. 

We had to delay the lesson a bit as Trainer A warned us that two of the hot heads were in the arena together, losing their minds.  We waited ten minutes while I introduced Trainer Z and Theo.  Theo decided she was acceptable as she was quick to adore him and give him many, many scritches under his braid.  She did remember him from our visits to Mary's barn, but didn't remember any details about him except his browband.

I am so that rider.

We dodged the last of the chaos in the ring and she loved the fact that Theo simply watched while a TB mare performed caprioles with her bareback rider (that teen has an amazing seat).  Everyone cleared out about the same time Theo started warming up, so that worked well.  I walked, trotted, and cantered on a light contact, giving her a baseline.

Her conclusion?  He's very sound, has three perfectly nice gaits, and is very nice in the connection now.  She loves the way he foams up the bit.  She was surprised that such a big guy with his cold-blood breeding was as forward as he was.  That's about the point where I started to breathe again.

Surprisingly content post ride pony

Then we discussed what needs to happen to make my 2019 goals a reality.  For the next four weeks, we're going to see just how forward we can get Theo.  He should be expecting to jump forward at any moment and offering to do it, not waiting for me to suggest the idea.  He needs to go forward to the contact much more.  Yes, he's round and soft and lovely, but there needs to be more if I want to move up.  More jump, more power, more forward thinking, more strength.  The first time I feel like I have to hold him back a bit instead of driving him forward, I'll know I'm where I'm trying to go.

Unlike last time someone decided I needed to get him far more forward, I could actually do it this time.  He was a bit mystified by my sudden insistence on massive power, but we could actually do it.  Big, big trot with a nice neck, sitting on the outside rein and giving the inside rein so he had somewhere to go.  Big canter.  Even bigger.  Big enough that you're almost afraid of what you're creating.  Then stay there.

Holy crap, that's scary because I know what's under the surface, but as I keep reminding myself that's distant history now.  His eyes and ears stayed soft.  He went big in the canter and after thinking about it once or twice, decided to stay with me and put all that excess energy into a big ass canter instead of blowing his top and pulling a porpoise.  Then we leg yielded in trot and canter without losing all that forward.  And then we did transitions (BIG transitions) in the leg yield.  Never ever let him suck back, he needs to mentally shift to this being his new normal, where he expects to be.  Because this is how much energy I need to successfully collect.  All the foundation pieces are there, we just need to add the power.

She loved him.  Straight up loved him.  We did some walk to canter and she said 'wow, he's better at that than you, he's going to have a gorgeous pirouette'.  I mentioned that we struggle with positive tension becoming negative tension.  She laughed and said 'yeah, you're definitely ready for Second'.  He swapped leads on me and we had to get into the nuts and bolts of how I ask for a lead.  It's from the hips, not my legs.  He's sensitive enough, if my hips aren't there, he picks up the wrong lead or tries to swap.  Oh ho, so that's what that mystery issue is when I know damn well I mis-cued but couldn't figure out what part of me was moving wrong.  He will ignore what leg goes back if I have the wrong hip forward.  He's a very, very smart horse.  And I'm a very freaky rider that can push my hip forward while taking my leg back.  So weird, but at least I know what I'm looking for now.

So yes, Second this summer is totally green lighted.  And frankly, she expects us to hop along to Third pretty quickly.  We've got all the building blocks, he just needs more strength and that will come from all of the forward that's going to happen over the next four weeks.  Once that's established, we'll collect him and he can start really building up that booty of his.  She can't wait to put a pirouette on him since she expects that will be a highlight for him.  Which means, of course, that we won't stop at Third.

She said 'there's no reason to stop at Third with this horse, no reason at all'.

He was thinking so hard his ears got sweaty

I probably looked like a stranded fish for a second.  I'd braced myself to be told that he'd already hit his ceiling.  Instead, sky's the limit.  No matter how hard we pushed him tonight, he stayed with us and worked.  No resentment, only one little buck while getting the big canter started, no curling or fighting my hand.  Dare I say he enjoyed using his body that much?

So yes, Trainer Z will be back.  This is the perfect time of year to rack up lessons and form new habits.  Come May, when the show season starts, time will be scarce and I'll have more trouble finding a regular time.  But by then we'll hopefully have this paradigm shift completed and less regular check ups will be fine.

OMG WE'RE MOVING TO SECOND!!!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Embracing the dunno

AKA:  The land of conscious incompetence

I'm starting to play with mid-level dressage and it's making some things painfully apparent.  Such as I don't freaking know how a lot of things work.  Which is frustrating when you've ridden something a bunch of times and think you know how it works, but then you realize you actually have absolutely no clue.  Flying changes are a prime example.  I've been doing them since I was ten.  I've put a change on lots of horses.  But when I had to actually break it down and think through how I was going to get what I needed because, for the first time, details count?  Big black hole hidden under all those years of just getting it done.

Second level really is the great black abyss of training, as Janet Foy calls it.  You can't do it unless you accept that the stuff you did up till now just isn't going to cut it.  You've got to embrace the fact that you are still a beginner despite the fact that it took you years to get here.  Or decades, in my case.

So young, so innocent, so clueless, such a cute pony

I suppose it's good that I'm now aware of just how far there is to go.  In terms of 'movements', Theo's started on most of them.  No piaffe or passage, of course, but flying change, canter half pass, and pirouette canter are starting to show up.  The pirouette canter wasn't at all planned, but beginners really can't steer and Theo now understands that he can, in fact, collect the canter.  So when I applied emergency levels of half halt and turn while cantering, we got our first steps of pirouette canter while he stepped around his butt to change direction and avoid the random appy pony coming at us with no steering and shaky brakes.  Well, so that's a thing.  My only thought at the time was 'don't hit the pony!', it wasn't exactly a movement with a plan.  It certainly got me some shocked comments from the peanut gallery in the ring.  Good boy, papi.

But hey, if he can do canter half pass and pirouettes and flying changes, he should be able to go right up to PSG, right?  Right?!

Yeah, I'm discovering there's a very big difference between a horse that can step around his butt in the canter while dodging a pony and a horse that can do a proper half pirouette, on command, reliably, in correct balance, and make it look easy.  I used to think I knew what collected felt like but now?  I have no idea!  Since it's a spectrum and not a button I push which is what I thought it was for a very long time.  You don't just train a collected trot as opposed to your working trot.  It's not a setting on the stove.  You add collection until you've got enough.  How much is enough?  Dunno.

Is it a dressage horse?  Dunno.

I say that a lot right now.  Dunno.

Is this shoulder in good?  Dunno.  Are we ready to debut Second?  Dunno.  Is this thing collected?  Dunno.  Where the hell is my other glove?  Dunno.  Spoiler alert, Theo had my other glove.  I did retrieve it, but I will be in the market for a new pair of silk lined SSG gloves.

My barn friends really don't get it.  How can you not know if you can do it?  Well, I don't know what 'it' feels like yet, so I don't know if I'm doing 'it'.  I know things are happening, which is progress, but I don't know if enough things are happening.  I need about a hundred reps of doing the thing and being told 'yes' so that I can lock in my brain what 'it' feels like because I've never tried to do 'it'.  And just because something feels good doesn't mean I'm doing it right.  I'm fully expecting to find out my new, much more pleasant to ride canter needs yet another overhaul and isn't going to be pleasant to ride any more.  Which will make me sad.  I'm enjoying his canter for the first time since we started out together.  He's not falling on his face and dragging on me while trying to break with every step.  Having him just freaking canter under his own power and hold his own balance feels so awesome.

Is it a collected canter?  Dunno.  Are those steps of lengthening starting to morph into medium?  Dunno.

Past self had a rather inflated view of her skill set.  I used to think I knew.  Now I know I don't know.  Yay? 

I now know that this is not an acceptable First level canter.  Progress.

All of this is why I have a guest instructor coming in.   I've learned a lot, adding words and concepts to my gut feelings of 'good' and 'not good'.  I know when a trot feels good, I now know that it's because he's really stepping under himself and swinging through his back with a relaxed, engaged topline.  I can feel his shoulders come up and his booty drop as he takes the weight back.  I'm discovering I now need to add all of those words to all of the other things I've been doing.  That's a lot of things that need actual understanding.  It's going to take awhile.  I expect to be saying 'dunno' for many years to come.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Learning to dance

I've got my choreography!  I'm so excited and emotional about it that I tear up when I hear my music.  Hopefully I'll be past this by the time I show.  I've really been dreaming of doing this since I saw the Lipizzaners when I was 9 so a bit of emotional outburst is expected.

The process was very straight forward.  I started with picking my music from a library on www.musikur.com, sending in a video of a First 3 test, and filling out a questionnaire about what my pony is good at (naps and snacks).  It's kind of embarrassing that I had nothing for the question 'what do you want to end your test with to wow the judges'.  Uhhhhhh, do they have any garbage cans they need moved with great gusto or maybe some lunches stolen?  He's good at that . . .

He very purposefully knocked the jump over and then stared at me to see what I was going to do about it.  Jerk.

We discussed when I needed my routine.  I'm planning on a June debut, so lots of time.  I suspect there are a lot of 'I show in a month!' type of requests, so it was nice to have a huge span of time.  Beth said she'd probably get it done in February (we started in Jan) since it was a small project for her and she'd squeeze it in between the bigger projects.  Cool!  Then I waited, but not anxiously since the big ring won't be available until late March at the earliest.

I received a copy of my music, adjusted to Theo's tempos, and a pencil sketch of my choreography for my sign off about a month later.  I rode through the bits that looked like they might be tricky and they all rode just fine (canter lengthen at P, working at M, turn onto centerline, head back to R and change leads through the trot, 15m circle at R, lengthen to F, back to working).  My leg yield will be getting some extra work in preparation of this routine since I've got a change of direction and one leg yield that goes all the way across the ring.  Not at all a concern, but if I'm going to go for it, I better make sure that leg yield looks amazing.

I can't do a ride of the full choreography until the spring thaw, but if he can do that canter combination with the total chill he showed, I have no worries.  I emailed back that the choreography looked good and she locked everything down.  She emailed my final choreography, a copy of my music with verbal cues for when to start movements, and a copy of my music with some final adjustments based on the chosen choreography.  I received two copies of my music burned to CDs in the mail along with my final choreography.


I'm not going to post my full choreography or final music for obvious reasons, but the plan I got is a series of movements drawn on rings and very easy to follow.  I got 21 movements with notes on how long the moves should take and time markers for interesting parts of the music.  Beth did a great job of cooking up a routine based on what Theo is good at and minimizing where he's weak.

I'm planning to debut my routine at NEDA Spring in June.  I'll be calling in some favors to use a large ring with a sound system in May for practice and hopefully get a run through at the end of a schooling show so I can ride in front of a judge.  I don't even need scores, I just want to have my music start and need to enter while someone watches.

I love my music.  I'm so happy with it.

I'm delighted with my experience with MusiKur.  It was super simple from my perspective and Beth was very transparent with what was happening and checked in with me on every step.  I would have stressed out doing this for myself, so it was worth the money to have a professional take care of everything.  Come spring, I'll start running through my choreography and learning the exact timing.  I'm sure there will be some tweaks, but overall it should be a flattering test for the feral yak.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

New opportunities

I saw a post on one of my Facebook groups from a dressage instructor looking to do lessons at different barns.  Reasonable price, has her Gold, worth taking a look at.  I checked her record and it's impressive, lots of good scores up to Grand Prix in 2018.  She also has riders up to Third posting about how happy they are with her instruction.  Cool, cool.

And then I figured out where I knew her name.  She's a student of Mary Howard and works at Mary's farm.  Oh, you don't say?  I can have one of Mary's students come teach me rather than trying to juggle my work schedule so that I can trailer out to Mary?  This is worth a shot!

He looks excited for more serious business dressage

I sent a message, got a response, and I have my first lesson on Friday at 5pm.  Woohoo!

I talked to Trainer A and she agreed to having another instructor on site.  This new instructor is based over an hour away, there's no real risk of her losing clients.  And frankly, I can't imagine anyone but me will want to ride with a very focused dressage instructor.  I'll pay Trainer A a ring use fee to keep things fair.  I asked if she wants to pick up some lessons as well and she's thinking about it.  I think it would be a great opportunity for her.

I had a good ride on Theo today so I don't think I'll be in too much trouble.  I definitely need some more structure for my training and an update on where we need to work.  After yet another week of mostly other riders, I spent half of my ride reminding Theo that downtown is a thing and that his back should stretch and come up.  He's so good at convincing people to accept that false frame so he can drop his back.  Once it was up?  Much better.  And that canter is so nice and light to ride now.  Watching that right lead, though, felt something in that today.  Almost stabby.  That's his weak hip so it does tend to lag and he pushed through it, but it's the kind of thing I really watch.

And then the busy ring and crazy wind we were having started to fry his brain so I brought the energy levels back down.  I didn't want to cause an incident with the four school horses working away.  Snow storm this afternoon so he's got to take a little break.

Can you tell I'm saddle shopping again?  All of my targeted ads look like this right now

I feel bad that I have another trainer coming in, but it's too good of an opportunity to miss.  I need someone that knows what Second level takes and has coached others through the process.  I do not want a repeat of 2017.  My record has taken enough of a beating, lets put some better scores out there.  I want to be hitting upper 60's consistently at First, not having the occasional good day.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Joining up

I'll take a clinic with pretty much anyone.  There's always something to learn, even if it's only a teeny bit while you dump the rest as irrelevant or not useful for your horse (or just plain dumb, but I rarely encounter that thankfully).  Today's clinic was by a natural horsemanship trainer and that was just about all I knew about what was going on.

Sure, sure, I don't even need my horse.  It's just me at 9am, standing in the barn parking lot with a coffee and no idea what happens next.

It was all pretty standard stuff.  He worked with a mare from the lesson program who's difficult to catch and generally full of opinions.  She's a doll to ride and a wonderful horse on the trails or the beach, but she's managed to kick some people in her field and has most of the staff trained to get out of her way if she pins her ears.  Not a mean horse, but pretty damn sure she is her own boss and willing to back it up.  Also the boss of the mare field.

There was much discussion about not approaching a horse with the wrong body language or energy.  You don't want your anger from other things coming into the barn.  There was also a lot of work on showing her that people are pretty cool with petting, scratching her withers, and using some T-Touch on her face and ears.  Roxy Sox was down with that, but giving to pressure on her rope halter?  Nuh uh.  She puts her head down when she wants to put her head down and not when you tell her to.

In the round pen, she gave our natural horseman a good demonstration of why a dominant chestnut mare is a force of nature.  Any attempt at making a decision for her resulted in swinging haunches and flying back feet.  Back and forth, back and forth, never getting upset or changing anything.  Eventually, as all horses do, she figured out that it wasn't working and she was more interested in getting back to all that petting and maybe one of the mints in his pocket.  They renegotiated and she allowed him to change her gaits and directions without protest.  Then she calmly walked over and let him put her halter back on.

Absolutely nothing I haven't seen before, but he was quite good at it.  He genuinely has no need to rush or dominate and the horses know it.  For the rest of the group, it was the first time they've seen round pen work.  They thought it was magic of some sort.  It did get a bit woowoo for me when it crossed into Reiki and prophetic dreams, but the actual actions were grounded in solid horse sense.

Theo got a turn in the round pen.  I wanted him to get down and roll with his blankets off, but he wasn't in the mood.  Instead, we took advantage for a bit of round pen work of our own.  Theo kind of knows this game already.


He's such a good boy.  He did buck and do some porpoise squeals early on, but that was more about getting out the excess energy.  His voice commands are so good.  His gaits are lousy like this, but it's mentally good for him.

This natural horseman also teaches long lining, so I might work with him again.  Theo doesn't actually have a lot of behavioral issues that are fixed through this kind of work.  He's polite, he pays attention, and he works off of my body language.  He's lazy as hell and thinks the Parelli stick with a bag on it is a toy he needs to put in his mouth as opposed to a driving aid, but that's not really a training issue.

The rest of the group was gaga and eager to sign up for sessions.  He won't do any harm and may give some of the nervous ladies more confidence, so I think he's going to be a good influence. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Managing the land porpoise

Once you've accepted that you own a land porpoise crossed with a yak, you start to manage it.

Looking fairly civilized for a feral yak

Trainer A did manage to sneak a lunge session in on the Wednesday before the Polar Vortex so Theo only had a couple days off in a row but it was a week of minimal work.  I decided to play it safe and stick him on the lunge and let him shake it all out.  Side reins usually keep the nonsense to a level I can manage without wrecking my shoulder.

The teens were frankly disappointed by the show.  Can you tell I dropped the lunge whip to manage my phone for the video?  Explosive and electric he was not.


I would have been totally fine if I'd just hopped on, but a day of working on the lunge is not a bad thing.  We worked on transitions, him paying attention, and I got to really watch his gaits.  Interestingly enough, he prefers his right lead when lunging.  Is that because I'm not on him or because he's on a circle?  Hmm.  But once I actually got him moving, he looked quite good.  Still better left than right but that's just papi.

On Sunday I dressed him up and hopped on.

Seriously looks good in any color, glad I splurged on the matching polos

I freaking LOVE that color on him.  Finally have some purple in the mix, even if PS of Sweden calls this color Minimalist Gray.  It's lavender and he rocks it.  The new browband is a waste of time when I have his forelock loose.

We got some nice work in.  The land porpoise appears to be on the way out and I was able to get him to focus.  I'm still working on that canter, specifically being able to shape him.  For a horse that generally likes to bring his haunches in for the canter, he's quite resistant to the idea of doing a haunches in during the canter.  I did some haunches in and some shoulder in as prep for our continued attempts at the canter half pass.  He's got the idea, but it's hard and he tends to fall apart.

I've really been sticking to the idea that we're traveling on a diagonal in a haunches in to keep me from doing the dumb during this movement.  As he gets stronger, we're getting more successful.  I managed to half pass left to the wall and when I changed bends, he popped the change.  Good boy!  Many cookies and called it a day with that one.  It's rough and not at all fluent, but the little light bulb in his brain is starting to flicker.

Today it was 50* out so I had to keep it light.  Even with a clip, he was starting to pant after only 20 minutes of work.  So we got our canter exercise out of the way and went for a wander.

Listening to them cutting up trees in the woods

I've now reached the point where I need to braid his mane up to keep his neck from overheating.  Progress?  Sure, we'll call that progress.  Pony is too delighted to be a wild, feral, naked stallion to care too much about anything I do.


Don't let the eyes fool you, he did a full on 'happy naked dance' when his blanket came off.  Much jumping and prancing and rolling and sound effects.  He'll get to run around naked again tomorrow, then it's back to blankets and ice.  We'll enjoy the reprieve while we can.